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[00:00:01]

It's Wednesday, August the 12th, and you're very welcome to the Inside Politics podcast from the Irish Times. I'm Hugh Lennon. Today, I'm joined by Jennifer Bray and Jack Morgan Jones from our political team and also a rare visit from our health editor, Paul Callan.

[00:00:12]

Hi, Paul. I hope I'll go to you first.

[00:00:15]

Am I going to ask the political team in a minute about this morning's story on the front of the Irish Times about the government's new color coded plan for managing covid-19 across the country? But I want to start with an easy question to you. How are things going and how well is it being handled by the Irish state?

[00:00:30]

Well, it's a mixed situation. Obviously, we would thought we were doing really well for a few months, very low cases, very proud of ourselves, one of the lowest incidences in Europe. And now we've been hit by a big spike again. And it's happened really quickly. And we're we're left wondering why it's happened so quickly. It's very specific. That's probably a good thing. Most of the cases are, as we know, a cluster of meat factories in the Midlands, the people involved who contracted the disease mostly younger.

[00:00:58]

So they probably won't have a serious disease, as we saw earlier, in the epidemic. So it's not all bad, but it is alarming how fast the disease took off in these environments. We did have problems at McDonald's earlier in the spring and we thought we dealt with a bit of a thousand cases or more. So we should have had that knowledge to learn to avoid that. Now, from the meat comes, it does seem that at least some of them had done it last, tried to do a lot to minimise the infection.

[00:01:24]

And they seem perplexed by how fast to go from not one case to about 60 in the space of a week just shows you what can happen. We do know from other countries and meat factories, particular environment, the temperature is low. People are working at close quarters. Often the air is recirculated. And I think that's going to be a key area of examination. In Ireland, people might be shouting as well, which is more easily so. Perhaps we should have learned more from that.

[00:01:53]

But it does seem now that from the figures last night and there is a health warning not to take individual days figures, but the last few days seem to show that most of the cases of those factors have been identified and tested and hopefully they will come under control. There is an amount of community transmission in a lot of other countries. It's not massive yet, but I'd say inevitably some of those outbreaks would become bigger and going to have to face down.

[00:02:20]

And so we might be moving on to a new phase shortly.

[00:02:23]

I mean, we have seen in other countries, for example, I think a few weeks ago in Germany, a spike around the meat industry can really kind of change the overall national figures for for a couple of weeks at least, and cannot be more misleading than it should be, really. I mean, is something like this this particular outbreak containable or the community transmission you referred to there? Is that more deeply worrying?

[00:02:43]

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I was conscious of this. You know, a big outbreak will distort a country's figures. And to the extent that netted officials this week have been saying, well, if you left out the three Midlands counties, we'd be doing quite well. But the government didn't apply that with other countries, Spain or Germany or whatever, which have had big regional outbreaks. But for example, you know, to take Spain as an example, the Canary Islands have very low incidence and that would be of interest to a lot of Irish people that wasn't taken into account when we were drawing up greenness.

[00:03:12]

So hot sauce for the goose is good for the gander. And, you know, we're going to have to start realizing you deal with disease where it is rather than taking large geographical boundaries because they have less meaning, really. And you deal with the level of disease that is circulating in the community. And that's the key ones, the ones who don't know, the ones you can't trace to close contacts or specific outbreaks. We are getting a bit of that as a percentage, not increasing, but because the number of cases have increased in recent days, we have more of those cases.

[00:03:41]

We're going to have to put out those particular fires.

[00:03:44]

So, Jan, that sort of reality, which Paul describes, is presumably underlies the thinking of the government in our story on the front of the Irish Times today, which is about moving away from the phases which we've been familiar with this this narrative of gradually easing restrictions over the course of the summer. We appear to be coming to the end of that, even though we didn't quite get to the end of the of it as laid out originally, and moving now to something which is colour coded and perhaps more regional or even local.

[00:04:12]

Yeah, and it does fit back into a Paul was saying, I think with the this new second wave and like Paul said, the speed of it. I think the reality is heading home with a lot of people that this thing is really and truly is here to stay and at least for the for the foreseeable future. And I think the government have been looking at ways in which maybe they could change their messaging or ways in which they can communicate with the public in a way that's probably more sustainable long term and less about on this date.

[00:04:39]

X will open on the next day. The next sector will open because what the feeling is that what that leads to is just an incredible sense of disappointment from the public when we get to August 10th and all these various things don't don't want to be open. And I think and also the thinking and government is, is that those arbitrary dates setting a date won't work when the. Virus can pop up at any time, anywhere in any place. So what they're looking at now is a different plan that would see different color code.

[00:05:08]

So you'd be talking about either a status red, orange, yellow or blue. Now, the kind of depressing thing, actually, is that status blue won't come into effect until there is a vaccination or until there is some other kind of medical breakthrough that will effectively suppress the virus to extremely low levels, whereby the vast majority of of normal life can resume. So we're really quite some way away from that. So if they bring in the system, which it looks like they will, we will always be in a stage red, yellow or orange for the foreseeable future.

[00:05:41]

And it will be kind of what we're seeing now in the Midlands tailored to different areas. So you could have an orange over towards the Midlands. Actually, I should clarify as well, the green was completely ruled out because the thinking behind if you have a state is green, is that everything's OK and life can resume as normal. And that and that's just not the case. So you could have status orange red somewhere and then maybe a status yellow maybe in Dublin or other areas.

[00:06:07]

So it's basically tailoring the country's response to the virus. So it's more reactive, it's more of a live framework, is what they're calling it. And it's something maybe they think that would be able to, I suppose, react in the way we react to weather warnings. You know, if there's a status right coming in, you stay indoors, et cetera, et cetera. So that's the that's the thinking behind behind the framework or the new framework that they're working on.

[00:06:30]

I suppose just, you know, messaging is incredibly important. And as this situation becomes more complex, you know, as as we moved out of the complete shutdown mode into this more complex kind of a world, the messaging becomes more more challenging to to make it clear.

[00:06:44]

But it's quite significant, isn't it, to move away from the narrative of we're coming out of this crisis to a narrative of we're now in this ongoing world, which is going to continue for the indefinite future, perhaps for years?

[00:06:56]

Yeah, and you can kind of see how it makes sense for them to do this, because when you take a step back and look at the phased reopening plan, which had these drop dead dates attached to it, it kind of presumes that there is this kind of linear progression of the virus through society and through business, and that as each phase comes to an end, it will not be problematic. It'll be easy to move into the next one. And as we've seen particularly acutely in the last few days, that's not the case.

[00:07:27]

Things pop up, explosions of the virus happen, and we have to be able to be more nimble in terms of adjusting to it. And incidentally, I understand that the the phased reopening approach also prompted a lot of kind of internal pressure within government as different sectors lobbied intensely, looking to say, oh, I'm in phase three. Can you move me back to phase two or why can't you go into phase four? My business is dying on its feet.

[00:07:56]

We saw this earlier in the spring with the hairdressers and now obviously the most the most the most kind of pressing sector that's looking for changes is the pubs. And what I think the government has to be particularly aware of here is the danger for another kind of mixed messaging farrago to erupt because we're moving now from this kind of rather abstract notion of phases into this new and still abstract notion of colours. And they need to explain quite clearly when we switch from one to the other and what exactly that means.

[00:08:28]

So all the various bits around the phases, like the nine euro substantial meal, does that perpetuate itself? When we switch into us into a into a phase yellow, will businesses be expected to define for themselves or indeed sports clubs or any other part of society be expected to define for themselves what phase yellow or status yellow or statis red means for them? Or will that be done in concert with public health? And we've seen throughout this that different sectors of society have been crying out for clear guidance on exactly what which stage means for them.

[00:09:02]

So if the messaging here is not clear, if the plan is not clearly communicated, then if it's not easy for people to understand, I think you'll be facing into another iteration of communications problems for a government that has had more than its fair share of those and has shown a propensity to generate those controversies and those problems for itself.

[00:09:22]

What do you think of that poll? How difficult is it? It's not a simple matter for any state to to bring out a whole new, I suppose, colour scheme coded way of thinking about the way the country is going to be run over the next year.

[00:09:35]

It takes a while for that to filter through.

[00:09:36]

And there's plenty of scope both for deliberate misunderstanding and accidental misunderstandings along the way.

[00:09:42]

Yeah, I mean, different people want different things as well. Some people, I suppose, are looking for their hands to be held right through this crisis. And we probably have to move away from this emergency period that we had earlier in the year. There's talk of the new normal, whatever that means on every government. The plan, I suppose, but effectively, we do have to have some sort of functioning society and economy and health system, and that's the direction we're headed.

[00:10:11]

Others want to get back to normal as soon as possible. I'm afraid the the external evidence is just not very clear. You know, every time we think, for example, oh, yes, the schools have to open or something or to take one example, when you dig into the emerging evidence, it's very mixed. And there are good signs, for example, to take to the instance of schools. And there are negative signs, ones that say, for example, that children, especially older children, can carry the virus just as much as anyone else.

[00:10:39]

And there may be transmission issues there. So there are no clear goal posts there. You know, so we're just going to have to make it up as we go along. But I think we differ from other countries. I get the sense that other European countries are just getting on with it. Some of them are doing some things really well, like testing a lot or opening up areas of society or whatever. Maybe some of them are not doing things as well.

[00:11:03]

But we make a lot of fuss about things here, I think, because we're a small country and the debate is always national rather than regional. So everybody gets into it. And there's a sense, of course, that nowadays that everyone's an expert, too. So I think we need to dial down that debate a little bit and just find a way that allows for some level of normality to go on and economic activity to be restored and kids go back to school and so on.

[00:11:26]

And in practical terms, can I just ask you, Paul, I mean, you talked about perhaps the UK has to some extent got a little bit more control over its its fires than it had previously.

[00:11:35]

They've had regional or local lockdowns, but the UK is a much bigger country.

[00:11:40]

So when they shut down whatever, you know, the Greater Manchester and East Yorkshire area, those a population considerably larger than the whole of Ireland.

[00:11:47]

Anyway, I know it's really difficult to figure this out, but would really small, localized lockdowns in Ireland work? Because a lot of people in, you know, BRX are saying they shouldn't be shut down at the moment because the core of the outbreak and Kildare is actually nearer to Dublin than it is to them.

[00:12:02]

Yeah, I mean, all the all the contradictions are being pointed out here. And many of the people working in some of these meat factories would be living in adjacent counties that are not affected by the the lockdown, for example. So there are lots of complications. I think the three county lockdown that we're having at the moment is an experiment. And I think it's worth doing to see how that might work because we can't go back to national lockdown. It just will be bad for the psyche apart from everything else.

[00:12:26]

So I think there is an element of an experiment and they may be able to refine it. So I think, you know, you've got to give the people the benefit of the doubt. It is true. I mean, other countries are struggling with this, too, and it's hard to see whether there is an easy way out of it. But for the moment, I think where, you know, I am encouraged by the fact that the then case numbers have gone down very rapidly.

[00:12:49]

So we may have more of a sharper spike than might have occurred otherwise. We do need to go back and see why it occurred and stop it happening again. But I think the graph is going down rapidly again. So there is reason for some encouragement. But of course, there's a lot to play for here because it's going to have a huge impact on how and if schools open in the autumn. Yeah, and let me ask you about schools, Jan, because this was supposed to be, I think, sort of the calm before the storm this month to some extent at the end of the the end of the summer holidays, the the dollar isn't sitting.

[00:13:22]

Give a chance for government departments to get up and ready for, you know, return to, if not normality, a new normality in schools. That's the big challenge now, isn't it? I mean, I know myself, I'd get in school books yesterday. There's so many people around the country will be, you know, wondering what it's going to be like for their kids when they go to school. If they do actually go to school on the Monday morning, at the end of August or the beginning of September for the first time, and how long they'll be there and what happens if there's an outbreak and how all that's going to work.

[00:13:49]

And I'm still extremely unclear on all of that.

[00:13:52]

It's the big challenge. And I think since Mr Martin took over as teacher, he made it very clear that his priority was always getting the schools open. And, you know, that's why there was a perceived trade off, maybe between perhaps reopening and not reopening is because the government's one stated aim since they took office was that schools would reopen. So that that's been the overriding aim. That's been the overriding plan. And, you know, there's there's a couple of different elements to this.

[00:14:19]

One is the safety, obviously, of of of having kids in the classroom and how you structure the classroom, whether they wear masks, what the protocols are, how long they're in there for, whether they come in to go into a quarantine for 14 days if they're in a classroom with another student who test positive. So, you know, they were all the kind of logical and logistical things that needed to be worked out. And we know what the government has, I suppose, I suppose, put quite a bit of money behind us in terms of their three hundred million euro plan.

[00:14:50]

And the other element to it as well, of course, is the grades that are leaving staff students will get. So it's going to be really, really challenging the. Is going to be nose, though, to joint in that regard, I suppose, even if you look at what was happening or what has happened in the last week in Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon had to come out and apologize because a large number of students, I think one hundred twenty thousand had their results downgraded.

[00:15:12]

And that was on the basis that the previous results of the school. So they were tied to the previous year. And I think around 15 percent of students who were from a disadvantaged background had their results downgraded in comparison to, I think, somewhere around five or six percent from those outside those areas. And then we started to come out and apologize and talk about how the system was designed mainly for itself and rather for the individual, and that that would be something that needs to be looked at.

[00:15:38]

And actually, our system over here is quite similar to theirs in many ways, and that the results of students over here, when they're getting their lives in search results are actually tied to the previous year's academic performance. Now, the department has come out and said that they will seek to counteract that by looking at whether the groups of students in each individual class are this year or have been open to the point where they had to go home, where trending academically better.

[00:16:03]

And I suppose the danger there really is, if you're looking at a group, are you allowing for an individual's performance? So we have a lot of similarities with Scotland in terms of how we are planning to assess our Leaving CERT students. And I note with interest that the students union's over the last few days have come out and said that they're effectively placing their trust and students are placing their trust in the government to get this right. So they really need to get it right.

[00:16:29]

Now, we have an opportunity to look at what went wrong in Scotland and make sure it doesn't happen here. But there will always be people who feel that they didn't get the grade that they deserve. And it'll be a matter of how many of those people, what areas are they from? Will it turn out that we are trending in areas where there are historic schools from historically disadvantaged areas that are getting lower grades and has the classes group performance knocked out some individual performers, and particularly if they were academically strong.

[00:17:01]

So, you know, that all needs to be worked out. And I think we're somewhere around halfway between the process at the moment. And you would hope that the officials in the department are looking at this disaster over in Scotland and saying, well, we need to avoid this and here's how we can do it. So then I suppose there's there's dosh for the Leaving CERT students. And like you say, there's the the logistical issues for first primary schools and all the concerns the parents have and all the conflicting evidence that we're hearing about children and and how they transmit the virus.

[00:17:31]

Yeah, I wonder about all that, Jack. I mean, to a certain extent, as John says, Ireland has second mover advantage. They can see the mistakes that were made elsewhere and presumably adjust accordingly.

[00:17:40]

Although I do wonder how much adjustment is possible. I mean, the the announcement of the grades was already put back by about three or four weeks because of the complexity of the process. Presumably, they're right in the midst of that complexity to start going in and fiddling with the algorithms or manually changing these things one at a time.

[00:17:56]

I mean, that sounds like a recipe for for legal cases later. And the other part of this is, I wonder, Norman Foley, first time, first time minister, running a department which didn't cover itself in glory necessarily in the earlier parts of the pandemic, now has these two huge things coming down the line at or one, the return to schools and the other one, these exam results.

[00:18:17]

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, do you do you start going in and rewriting the rulebook and redrawing the algorithm right now? I think, as you correctly say, Hugh, you're making a rod for your own back in the future if you do, because imagine some student comes out with a C plus who anticipated an A and they say, right, I want to do a personal data request on everything that was that was done in relation to the marking of my of my performance.

[00:18:45]

And they said, well, I was on track for an A and they came in and they fiddled with the algorithm. I ended up with it with a D or a C, and that becomes enormously problematic. And I think that there has to be an acceptance, I suppose, in the Department of Education and also a cabinet level, and that, you know, no matter what happens here, you're going to get really hard cases when you do a profound systemic change like this.

[00:19:07]

And people are going to be disappointed and it is going to be shown to be fallible in some way and it will have led some people down. So I think that they have to be anticipating and that we anticipating that there will be court cases, that there will be difficult stories told to the media of kids. You have effectively been denied a fair crack at the whip, and I think they have to kind of steel themselves for this in the same way that Paul was talking about building a kind of resilience into our into our society and into those systems about how we deal with the virus as it ebbs and flows.

[00:19:41]

I think that the political system has to build the resilience into how it responds to these controversies, which have their roots in the covid-19 crisis, but all of a sudden erupt and emerge and become very vibrant, very difficult to manage. Because if they don't build this resilience, if they do kind of. Lapse into into a kind of reflexive intraparty backbiting and blame game, then the weak points of the government will emerge and will become more apparent, weak points like the fact that they that they potentially push someone who is a first time to enter into an incredibly difficult portfolio.

[00:20:19]

And those weak points won't survive for long under sustained pressure. So basically, they they have to toughen up. They have to form resilience.

[00:20:26]

Otherwise, I don't see the government lasting very long or administering very effectively, although it has been suggested to me somewhat cynically, perhaps, that the third level institutions and that's the main reason why they're leaving search results are so important as access to third level institutions are quite happy maybe to open their doors a bit more this year because of the other financial pressures which they're facing and the absence of foreign students in a number of other elements there. So they just let them all in.

[00:20:50]

They like to to quite a lot of these courses and then perhaps, you know, dropped the ball when they failed their first year exams.

[00:20:56]

Well, look, I'm no education expert, but I would imagine that kind of that gets around one problem, which is the emptiness of lecture halls, because we don't have foreign students and, you know, that kind of slack in the system. If you have more domestic students circulating within the university system, it doesn't get around the rather larger, a more pressing problem of financing. The third that the third, the third level sector. And because we all know that the fees that were charged from overseas students who weren't coming into the leaving service and free degree system were in some ways becoming, if not the lifeblood, certainly one of the very important IV lines going into the body of education at third level.

[00:21:38]

And and they need to figure out a way of replacing that. And I think, you know, fiddling around the edges in terms of access, perhaps generating a little bit more fee income from registration fees, I don't think that's going to cut it. And something something more fundamental and something more thought out and well-rounded needs. There needs to be the solution there.

[00:21:54]

Paul, I want to ask you about testing and tracing, because as part of the whole back to school process, that's going to be crucial in the event that there's you know, there's outbreaks of of one sort or another that there they're identified early and that the process are put in place to shut down where required and to find contacts and to test those contacts and all that kind of stuff. Obviously, we had a we had a big problem with capacity of testing at the at the outset of the pandemic.

[00:22:17]

That seems to be a lot better. Now, claims are that in general, testing is much faster than it used to be. But a couple of examples to the contrary over the last week or so that you've been writing about. Yeah, sure.

[00:22:29]

I mean, it's boring. I have to go back to this about testing, but it is the nuts and bolts of of responding in this situation. Right. So as you remember, we did get up to 100000 a week capacity after a problem period in the spring when we have to send off samples to Germany embarrassingly. And that 100000 we capacity has never been. I don't think it's ever been reached. And at the moment, Moreese, at the end of July, we were running at a quarter capacity.

[00:22:56]

Now, you might say that's because we don't have too many cases, but let's use the rest of the capacity to go and test people. For example, in Luxembourg, the testing everyone, all families are getting invitations and for asymptomatic testing. And it's going to be repeated in September to see what's out there and to deal with it. Sure, their figures are bad and they knew their figures were bad and they had to do it. But why aren't we using the capacity that we have?

[00:23:21]

And why haven't we looked into the alternatives to the testing data that are out there? I know there are a lot of problems with blood tests, antigen tests about accuracy and things like that. But surely by now some of them are providing some level of usefulness that we could employ. For example, if you have a rapid test, you could use that at points of entry to the country. If somebody's test positive, then you send them for the PCR test that they test negative.

[00:23:51]

Then we watch them and and see what happens, you know, so you can you can use different things. You can use pool testing, for example, whereby they say you pick a meat factory or a school and everybody pools or samples or groups of people pool their samples. If the grouped sample is negative, that's good. That seems to indicate that neighborhood or that section of the factory is is OK. If there is a positive sample, then you've got to go and test everybody.

[00:24:15]

There is different ways of doing this and to make your resources go as far as possible. But as as you said in your question, and there are anecdotal experiences, I'm hearing accounts of people having to wait for days for a test. I had to wait four days for testing in May and that was too long then it would be shocking that anybody would have to do that now at a time when we're only using quarter over capacity. And I'm very struck by the fact that two of the four meat plants felt the need to bring in a private lab to speed up the process of testing the staff at their own expense.

[00:24:50]

That speaks volumes, you know, so and although the official statistics say, yes, we're giving a next day service and maybe the turnaround for. Context, context is another day on the face of it that seems OK, unspectacular, but OK, but it seems yet again at odds with this sort of feedback that people are providing, both in specific areas and online and in anecdote.

[00:25:14]

And can I ask people who would be driving that both at the strategic level, which you talked about, of different types of testing group testing, all those types of things, and at the operational level of making sure that the system is reacting fast?

[00:25:25]

Well, if you remember, the testing system was set up in an emergency and it was patched together in different ways. Now, in some places, it works well. If you're a hospital patient, if you're a health care worker who needs a test and the test is carried out in a hospital, it's quite near to where the patient is, for example. And the turnaround is reasonably quickly. And they're used to doing that. But for the rest of us in the community who require testing because we have symptoms or maybe we don't even have symptoms and there are so many stages in the process.

[00:25:53]

And I have to say the first one is we have to alert someone first. And there is evidence that people are a bit slow to do that. But if you look at the testing figures and you have this Monday, Tuesday phenomena, for example, low figures, low, low, positive figures on Monday, higher ones on Tuesday, what does that tell you? It tells you the five day system of seven day system. How did GPS work?

[00:26:16]

They were mostly five days. There are out of there, out of our services. But we know there are problems with that. We're not getting a seven day A to a kind of service that we need. The system was set up in an emergency. It needs to be put on a more regular footing for the medium term with somebody in control and an effort to reduce the different steps in the sequence. So you would question perhaps is a GP referral always necessary?

[00:26:45]

Could it be done online? Could be speed things up that way, for example, in certain circumstances. So, you know, there are ways to improve it, but it doesn't seem to that level of continuous improvement doesn't seem to be happening in recent months, in my view.

[00:26:57]

Meanwhile, German political life goes on. I'm going to ask Jack in a second about Leo Varadkar and his shoe er options.

[00:27:03]

But I mean, you're there you you're on what's usually, you know, the graveyard shift, which is the political beast in August, there's usually little or nothing going on.

[00:27:12]

But I mean with this kind of unusual this year, both because of the pandemic and dealing with the various consequences of that, and also because you had this brand new government and presumably ministers are reading into their briefs and figuring out what the hell is going to happen in September.

[00:27:24]

So is there more politics than usual in the middle of August this year?

[00:27:27]

Yes, in a word, yes. There is a lot more politics than normal. And some of our listeners may be aware that this period is usually referred to as silly season for journalists is when you start reading in the papers about a new arrival at Dublin Zoo or, you know, some exotic animal abroad. And that's not really happening this year. And we all expected that because we knew to a certain extent that there would be a second wave of covid and we knew that wasn't covid was going to take a holiday just because it's August.

[00:27:54]

So, yeah, there's there there is a lot more action this month than usual. In fact, from politicians that I've talked to, some of them are actually quite afraid to go on a break. Some of them are terrified to even admit that they're taking a week off because they're terrified that, you know, they'll be spotted on a beach while there are deaths and an X number of cases, or maybe they're new ministers who feel that they should be reading into their brief at all hours of the day and night, which, to be fair, they probably should.

[00:28:19]

So it is a completely different circumstance and even the way that the government is operating throughout August. So we have some cabinet meetings, but we also will have every week a meeting of the cabinet committee uncovered. So that's going to be made yesterday. It'll meet next week to discuss that framework we talked about in relation to color coding and will discuss communications, how to, you know, send out the message to the public about where we're at, because there's definitely a sense in government that people are exhausted and people are fed up and they just want this thing to go away, which is absolutely, totally understandable.

[00:28:53]

And I'm right there myself. But so, yeah, it's it's kind of like almost business as normal and. Yeah, just got to keep that coffee intake up and, you know, get on with it.

[00:29:07]

To be honest, I admire your fortitude.

[00:29:10]

I also admire yours, Jack. I see that according to according to Twitter anyway, which as we know is the fount of all all truths you've been, you know, mainstream media shilling again for Leo Varadkar, it is cheap photo ops, getting an ad, buying a pair of shoes. What kind of shoes is Leo Varadkar wear these days? And why were you taking photographs of it?

[00:29:27]

Oh, yeah, I don't I feel silly for thinking the Internet can take a joke. And so there was a there was a phone call and at a press conference on Monday at Lyrica was in a shoe shop, which is in receipt of the reopening grand plus. And while they're being of ragga, he decided to buy a pair of shoes. And he was sitting there and I noticed that there was an absence of the well-known novelty sock and snapped a photograph thinking this guy has a fairly dorky history with the Internet.

[00:29:58]

We've got this joke tweeted that I. Logged into my phone maybe half an hour later. That's rather a lot of notifications, a trend, a trend which perpetuated itself across the days that followed and as as people articulated their views that this was perhaps somewhat short of the standard of journalism, which they expected from from both myself and the Irish Times. And, you know, to which I can only say it was it was a twist. It wasn't it wasn't a news article.

[00:30:26]

I'm surprised it didn't end up on page one, actually.

[00:30:28]

But anyway, you know, well, imagine my disappointment when I thought I had my page one page stowed away early in the day, only to find that, you know, this wasn't quite up to scratch. But I think there is like, you know, mining this for it for something kind of relatively serious or interesting to talk about. I think there is there is something to this that that when when something like this kicks off, particularly when you have a front row seat to it, you do see the extent to which people are open to the argument online that, you know, their politicians are cosseted and interested only in photo opportunities and silly, removed, detached, and that the media is there only to kind of act as this kind of handmaiden to their to their ad, to their photo opportunities.

[00:31:13]

And you see just how fertile ground is for that and how quickly and how effectively those messages travel. And you remember just how far some people have been flung from the political center over the last few years. You know, and that that effect, which kind of, I suppose, started in the financial crisis and accelerated through the austerity years and now has to kind of come into contact with the political fragmentation that's going to occur during covid. And there's a lot of alienated people out there.

[00:31:42]

There's a lot of angry people out there, and there's a political constituency for that. And you see it when when something unexpected happens like that. Paul, actually.

[00:31:50]

Last question. Just in relation to that to you. I mean, Jan mentioned earlier on that these new color coded categories were not likely to see the blue category, which is basically the it's all over category and for the foreseeable future at all. I mean, I've got a bleak theory, which is that grim, though it was over the last six or seven months. The weather was actually pretty good through spring. And then we had summer when it was bright and relatively warm.

[00:32:16]

But if this continues in this manner and with local lockdowns and other kinds of problems just continuing and you get into November and December and January, that's where you could really start seeing both the psychological damage and also the economic hit, because people won't be able to hold out for much longer.

[00:32:32]

That could be the worst part of this whole thing.

[00:32:34]

Yeah, nothing like finishing on a bum note. I always try. Yeah, you have a point. I mean, in this pandemic, outdoors is good. That's definitely the case. Outdoors is good. And we had a good run of spring weather and so on. So confined spaces, indoor spaces is bad short days, dark days, even like the ones we've had in the last few days are bad. I've been researching a feature this week on people with longer term complications, often people who weren't seriously ill.

[00:33:04]

Some of them didn't even get a diagnosis. And the tunnel of despair that they're going through is very, very striking, actually, you know, situation, the rollercoaster of symptoms, you know, coming and going. You think you're better and then you fall back into it and so on. So that's a you know, a lot of them were also and mentioning the mental health aspect of that. But for the wider population. Yes, I mean, the government does understand the importance of returning to schools in my own household.

[00:33:34]

You know, the message came in yesterday. No after school activity for the entire academic year in primary school. You know, those kind of messages are going to come in the limitations of each individual school. The provision is going to come in in the next few weeks. I think that's going to be a, you know, a really cautionary for people. And so, yes, we need a longer medium to longer term plan really for this. Yes, we need to try and establish zones of normality or activity where we can.

[00:34:06]

And then we yes, we need to chase the virus and feel that we're on top of this. I think that's the thing, because I think when you read back then you feel that you're being pursued by the virus and you feel the lack of agency and that you feel helpless. So I think empowerment, both nationally on, you know, government and individually is the way forward.

[00:34:27]

Really that sobering but realistic knows. We'll leave it there. Thanks to Paul, to Jack and Jennifer and to our producer Declan Conlon and JJ Vern and our engineer. Before we go, allow me yet again to encourage you to, if you have not already done so, go to Irish Times dot com slash subscribe where you can sign up for unlimited access to the Irish Times for the introductory price of just one euro. And if you want to get in touch, we would be delighted to hear from you.

[00:34:48]

Just mail US Politics podcast at Irish Times dot com until the next time.

[00:34:53]

Thanks very much indeed for listening.